Lawyers for both state Senator Chris McDaniel and incumbent Senator Thad Cochran will be in a Jones County Circuit Courtroom today, as part of a hearing to determine if voter fraud affected the June Republican Senate runoff. Legal experts say the hearing will likely set the stage for what could be a viscous, legal battle.
State Senator Chris McDaniel is demanding a judge name him the rightful winner of the June 24th GOP runoff or to at least order a new election.
McDaniel made the demands as part of a lawsuit filed last week in Jones County Circuit Court that claims voter fraud and other irregularities affected the results of the race against Senator Cochran.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, in Jackson, McDaniel says the challenge is an effort to ensure the integrity of the election process in Mississippi.
"To overturn a statewide reelection is a difficult proposition, naturally." says McDaniel. "We recognize that. But we likewise recognize that this is something that needs to be done for the future of the party; for the future of the integrity of the elections."
Cochran was certified the winner of the June runoff by nearly 7,700 votes in early July, but McDaniel and his legal team have since argued that thousands of illegal votes and other irregularities affected the outcome of the race. Former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Ed Pittman previously told MPB News that it will be difficult to prove voter intent in court.
"If you disqualified enough votes maybe the court could order a change in the nominee of the Republican Party." says Pittman. "But you would have to disqualify thousands of votes. I'd just be a little bit surprised if you had 10,000 or 25,000 votes that were voided by a court."
Even if McDaniel's legal team can successfully argue that a new election should be ordered, the Cochran campaign will likely appeal the decision or vice versa. When discussing the trial last week, Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey says this will likely end in an appeal to a higher court.
"In this case McDaniel has to show that when you exclude the invalid affidavit ballots and you tally up all the votes he actually won." says Steffey. "So he's going to have to travel under the election standard that says there are so many issues that the will of the electorate can't be determined. That whatever the specially-appointed judge does, if it rules for McDaniel or rules against him, this case will end up in the Mississippi Supreme Court."
The case today in Jones County will be overseen by retired Chancery Court judge Hollis McGehee; who was appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court last week.